A Layman's Guide To WWIII:
Who's Who in Palestinian Politics
By Kevin Filan
The Ba'ath Party |
The Grey Wolves
Yesterday's revolutionaries are tomorrow's pragmatists… and so it has been with Fatah. Once this militant branch of the Palestine Liberation Organization was tied to terrorist incidents like the 1972 murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics and the 1973 murder of two American diplomats in Sudan. Today Fatah has become an integral part of the Palestinian Authority. Despite continuing links to terrorism and suicide bombings, Fatah is now one of the more moderate players in Palestinian politics; today's Palestinian radicals denounce their "collusion" with Israel and their willingness to recognize a Jewish presence in any part of Palestine.
Although he has become recognized as the face of the Palestinian struggle, Yasser Arafat was born in Cairo, Egypt to Palestinian refugees who traced their roots back to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. After fighting in the 1956 Suez campaign, Arafat went to Kuwait, where he worked as an engineer and in his spare time worked with an organization dedicated to liberating Palestine, Al Fatah. (a reverse acronym for "Harekat at-Tahrir al-Wataniyyeh al-Falastiniyyeh" - or "Palestine National Liberation Movement," Fatah means "conquest by Jihad"). Part of what he called the "Generation of Revenge," he campaigned tirelessly for an independent Palestinian state and Palestinian self-rule. By 1964 he was working full-time as a revolutionary, organizing Fatah raids from Jordan into Israel.
At first Arafat opposed the Palestine Liberation Organization, a blanket group of several Palestinian organizations sponsored by the Arab League. The PLO was more moderate than Fatah, and largely seen by Arafat as a puppet organization used by the Arab states to keep the Palestinians quiet. After the 1967 Six-Day War, and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the Arab states grew increasingly less moderate, and Arafat became increasingly more powerful within the PLO.
Operating within Jordan, the PLO soon became a state within a state, complete with its own army. At first it contented itself with launching attacks against Israel, but soon began working to overthrow King Hussein and set up a Palestinian state which would include not only the West Bank but also the State of Jordan. (At this time Jordan still claimed rulership over the West Bank, and many Palestinians considered themselves Jordanians). By 1971 Hussein had reached the end of his rope, and disbanded the PLO in Jordan. The PLO re-established itself in Lebanon; after Israel's 1982 invasion, Arafat re-established himself in Tunisia.
Ever a canny politician, the first Intefada (1987-89) provided Arafat with an opportunity to reassert his authority. In 1972 he had come before the United Nations with an olive branch and a gun; before the UN in 1988, he declared that the PLO renounced terrorism and supported "the right of all parties concerned in the Middle East conflict to live in peace and security, including the state of Palestine, Israel and other neighbors" … the first time Arafat had ever recognized Israel's right to exist. While many were skeptical, it still gave Arafat the legitimacy he needed; by 1993 the Oslo Accords had provided for Palestinian elections and by 1996 Arafat was president of the Palestinian Authority.
Since coming to power, Arafat has proven himself to be somewhat less than committed to ending terrorism. Fatah has been linked to several of the recent suicide bombings, through various Fatah-connected organizations which have repudiated Arafat's recognition of Israel i.e. the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade. While Arafat has sought to distance himself from these groups publicly, much as he did with Black September; he has made little or no effort to rein them in. Though Hamas remains a rival to the PLO (and, indeed, there have been armed clashes between PLO and Hamas supporters), there is also evidence of Fatah/Hamas collusion in terror attacks on Israeli citizens. Unfortunately, the Israeli response to these attacks has only served to further radicalize the Palestinian population, and to cement Palestinian support for Arafat.
Arafat's shortcomings as a leader have become increasingly apparent, as the Palestinian Authority has done little to improve the day-to-day lives of its constituency and much to enrich Arafat and his cronies. His efforts toward a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza are seen as "betrayal" by the ever-growing Islamic fundamentalist contingent. Still, he remains the most powerful man in Palestine, and Fatah remains a force to be reckoned with in any Middle East peace process.